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Northwestern Ontario iron-ore mine developer revives Bending Lake project

Ambershaw Metallics proposes open pit, pellet mill as project enters environmental approvals process

A once-dormant iron deposit in northwestern Ontario appears to be on the development track with new owners that want to build an open-pit mine and a pellet plant to feed the steel industry.

Ambershaw Metallics filed documents with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) in mid-July to start the public commenting period on its mine project, 48 kilometres southeast of the community of Ignace. 

It’s the first step to determine if a federal environmental assessment process is necessary. The deadline to receive written comments was set for Aug.4.

If all goes well on the regulatory and permitting front, the company hopes to begin site clearing during the winter of 2021-2022 with production starting in late 2024 or early 2025.

Ambershaw is sitting on a 335-million-ton reserve of iron ore on a 165-square-kilometre property on the west end of Bending Lake. It’s enough to sustain an operation for 30 to 40 years, producing an average of 23,000 tons of ore per day.

In its project description filed with the agency, Ambershaw proposes an open pit 3.2 kilometres in length, a kilometre in width, with a depth of 300 metres. Since the ore body runs under the lake, a bay would have to be drained and dammed up to accommodate the pit.

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Toronto-based Ambershaw is a subsidiary of Legacy Hill Resources, a privately-owned firm with a London, UK office. Legacy bill themselves as global turnaround artists, skilled at reviving assets that were either poorly operated or were financially run into the ground. 

They picked up the Bending Lake property in a receivership sale in 2016. Once owned by the Bending Lake Iron Group of Thunder Bay, which delineated the deposit, the area has been known to host a magnetite iron deposit for many years.

Ambershaw chairman Saradhi Rajan said in a July 23 news release that their CEAA filing was a “critical step” in the project’s development.

“We also look forward to building on the relationships that we’ve established over the past several years to develop a collaborative vision for the future of the project.”

Ambershaw is looking to obtain an advanced exploration permit from the province in order to drill and blast a 100,000-ton bulk sample for processing. Preparing that submission has taken longer than expected but it will be filed later this year.

They’re also working on a budget that includes a drill program, and updates to a feasibility study and their resource calculation. 

Their proposed operation, located just east of Highway 622, would include a waste rock and tailings area, and a 450,000-square-metre plant complex containing a conveyor belt system, and several buildings for ore crushing, administration, maintenance, warehousing, and to store explosives.

The property would also contain a processing mill where Ambershaw wants to produce a direct-reduced iron pellet, used primarily in electric arc furnaces by the North American steel industry. 

The company has a technology that involves a “cold bonding” pelletizing process that uses less heat and reduces energy costs than the standard industry processes.  The pellet plant would produce 5,600 tons a day.

Finished product would be moved, either by conveyor or railway spur line, up a 25-kilometre long corridor, carved out of the bush, running northeast toward Highway 17 and a transfer facility on the CP Rail main line, near Ignace, for transport to customers.

The company made no mention of any pending off-take agreements with steel producers.

Ambershaw began environmental baseline field work in 2017– surveying the area’s vegetation, wildlife and hydrology – and expect to continue that into 2020 to provide government regulators with three years-worth of data toward ultimately obtaining a mining permit.

It’s expected that the mine will generate a half-billion tons of waste rock over its operating life. The mining ratio is roughly one ton of waste rock for every ton of iron ore produced. 

Some of the waste rock will used for the dams while the rest will be hauled to a disposal site on the property. The company said preliminary tests indicate much of the waste rock is non-acid generating. Any rock found to be acidic will be stored separately in a contained area. 

On the labour front, a construction camp would be set up to accommodate 450 contractors, but once commercial production begins a smaller number of mine workers will live in Ignace, a short drive away. The company anticipates most of the workforce can be sourced locally and from First Nation communities.